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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 63

Opinions of Counsel index

Senior citizens exemption (ownership requirement) (residence lost through foreclosure and reacquired) - Real Property Tax Law, § 467:

Where a senior citizen, who has been receiving a senior citizens exemption, loses title to his or her residence through foreclosure but then reacquires such property, the statutory 12 month length of ownership requirement is deemed satisfied.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the senior citizens real property tax exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 467). As of the locally applicable March 1, 1998 taxable status date (RPTL, § 302), a county held title to a parcel as the result of a tax foreclosure proceeding. The former owner, who received the senior citizens exemption on the parcel for several years, repurchased the property from the county on March 19. The question is when, given these facts, the property owner may again receive the senior citizens exemption.

When the senior citizens exemption was first enacted (L.1966, c.616), it included a five year length of ownership requirement (§ 467(3)(b)). In 1969, that provision was amended (c.1146) to provide that the five year ownership period would not be deemed to be interrupted where an owner acquired property to replace property “taken by eminent domain or other involuntary proceeding, except a tax sale. . . .” {1}  In 1974 (c.1004), the length of ownership requirement was reduced to two years; in 1995 (c.409), the ownership requirement was reduced to its current one year period. But for another amendment (discussed below), the tax sale would operate as a break in the period of ownership, necessitating a one year delay before an application for an exemption on this parcel could again be granted.

However, in 1992 (c.856), section 467 was amended by adding an exception to the length of ownership requirement: “3. No exemption shall be granted . . . (b) unless the owner shall have held an exemption under this section for his previous residence. . . .” While it could be argued that the exception should only apply where the applicant has moved from one residence to another, we think it unlikely that the Legislature intended to exclude someone who repurchases his or her former home.

The two provisions essentially convey conflicting legislative aims: facilitating the grant of the exemption when it was received in the past, while discouraging the grant of exemption to tax delinquents by not permitting the tacking of periods of ownership where title was lost through tax sale. On balance though, in our opinion, the clause added in 1992 created an alternative to the (now) one year length of ownership provision, viz., if the applicant enjoyed the exemption on his or her prior residence, the 12 month provision, along with its exceptions (i.e., tacking) and counter-exceptions (i.e., no tacking for tax sales) is irrelevant. {2}

In this case, the owner in question reacquired title after taxable status date. The property owner’s exemption eligibility would therefore be determined in accordance with the provisions of section 467(9): post-taxable status date acquisitions (discussed in 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 23). If the requirements of that subdivision are satisfied, in our opinion, the exemption should be allowed.

June 15, 1998

{1}  This is sometimes referred to as a “tacking” provision in that two periods of ownership are deemed combined into one.

{2}  We note that section 467(3)(b) also includes a provision (added L.1988, c.298) allowing for tacking when an owner who was receiving the exemption transfers title and reacquires title within nine months of transfer. That provision seems irrelevant here, however, because the “transfer” was an involuntary one not made “by” the owner.